White supremacist with local ties to hate crimes found guilty

chicago | White supremacist leader Matthew Hale — whose rhetoric of “racial holy war” was tied to a deadly shooting spree directed at Jews and other minorities five years ago in Chicago — was found guilty Monday, April 25 by a federal jury in Chicago for seeking the murder of a federal judge.

Hale, who had been the director of the former Illinois-based hate group World Church of the Creator, was found guilty on four of the five counts against him — one of solicitation for murder and three of obstruction of justice.

The World Church of the Creator was linked to three Sacramento synagogue arsons in 1999. Hale denied those links but did not condemn the hate crimes.

The jury’s verdict, announced in the downtown Chicago courtroom of U.S. District Judge James Moody, came after three days of deliberations.

Hale had been charged twice with soliciting the murder of U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow because she had ordered him to stop using the name World Church of the Creator, which had been trademarked by an Oregon-based religious group with no ties to Hale.

In an e-mail letter to his followers regarding the trademark case, Hale refers to Lefkow as the “judge with the Jew surname.” Lefkow is not Jewish, however. Tapes played during the trial documented the hate-filled views that, prosecutors said, provided a context for Hale’s intent to commit violence.

“It is not surprising that a person possessed by the kinds of beliefs that Hale has actively promoted for years would ultimately act on them,” according to Michael C. Kotzin, executive vice president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

The judge was never physically harmed. Kotzin applauded law enforcement and prosecutors “for successfully taking action against Hale for the crimes which he did commit and for preventing the crimes which he was planning to commit.”

Moody did not announce a sentencing date. Hale could receive a maximum of up to 50 years in prison.

Hale’s defense will appeal the case, according to chief defense counsel Thomas Anthony Durkin.

In July 1999 one of Hale’s followers, Benjamin Smith, went on a shooting rampage targeting minorities in the Chicago area. He began the spree wounding six Jewish residents who were walking from synagogue on a Friday evening in the usually tranquil and heavily religious Jewish Chicago neighborhood of West Rogers Park.

By the time law enforcement officials caught up with Smith two days later in downstate Salem, he had injured nine people and shot to death two: former Northwestern University basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong, an African American man killed while walking in his Skokie neighborhood with his children; and Won Joon Yoon, a graduate student from South Korea who was fatally shot outside his church in Bloomington, Ind. Smith apparently shot himself to death after a short police chase in southern Illinois.

Michael Messing, the first individual targeted but not hit by Smith, called the verdict “incomplete justice given the deaths of two individuals five years ago as the result of Hale’s leadership and incitement. Hopefully, complete justice will be met [by] his extensive prison term.”

Messing added that “this sends a strong message to anti-Semites and bigots that their hateful and evil activities will not go unpunished.”

During the rampage, Smith shot Gidon Sapir in the lower back. Sapir, an Israeli who had been studying in Chicago, responded to Hale’s guilty verdict by saying he “is glad that justice is working.”

Jewish leadership around the country applauded the guilty verdict as a step against hatred and prejudice.

“It is a testament to our American justice system that a miscreant like Hale has the right to his beliefs but not to use intimidation and violence in furtherance of those beliefs,” said Ethan Felson, assistant executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in New York. “With anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on the rise around the globe, the United States must continue to set an example by leading the fight against prejudice and hate-motivated violence.’